The trouble with the first couple of days of Test matches is that much of the time every observation is couched in maybes, might bes and possiblys. There are exceptions of course, the slaughter taking place in Melbourne has few uncertainties beyond wondering whether Australia will win by hundreds or an innings and hundreds.
At Kingsmead in contrast, it’s very much in the balance, as Test matches should be at this stage. In your classic Test story, the first two days are feeling each other out, while day three is moving day, and day four is finding out if the team on the rough end of day three will fight back. Day five of course being the result day.
So at least thus far this Test is following the perfect script. If the first day was even, it’s hard not to feel the second day deserves exactly the same epithet. And yet England probably should be the happier; they had the clear worst of the conditions on the first day, yet survived it, and in less bowler friendly conditions on day two removed four top order players.
Against that it must be said that the way England’s innings fell away from a position of promise will – or should – deeply irritate the team, and it’s hardly the first time it’s happened in recent years anyway.
Nick Compton held the innings together, his 85 of obdurate defence would have received much greater plaudits from certain quarters had it come from another obdurate player in the England side, which says more about those offering the praise than anything else – Compton was excellent and was the primary reason England made a competitive score. Bairstow’s breezy 41 briefly arrested the decline of the innings, while Broad, who appears to have at least partially rediscovered his batting mojo, provided much needed runs at the end to get England over 300.
In this calendar year, Broad has over 50 Test wickets at an average of 24. And yet he remains in at least some quarters a prophet who is not honoured in his own land. His record over the last few years is excellent, sufficiently so that he was pretty much the only player to come out of the Ashes disaster of 13/14 with any dignity left intact. For some reason he still faces constant criticism.
Certainly here his wicket in the first over was one that would give opening batsman nightmares – the last thing you want to see is the ball arrowing back into off stump when you don’t want to play, likewise Hashim Amla, out of form or not, could have done little with the one that caused his downfall.
And so to that moving day mentioned earlier. In which direction? Who knows. That’s why when Test cricket is at it best, we watch.
I’m determined not to draw any conclusions about the two teams until after the Second Test at the earliest.
Durban is SA’s worst home venue, Cape Town their best. ‘New era’ England have a good record in first Tests in series (undefeated in six since the Gabba), a bad record in last Tests (lost five of the last six).
I didn’t see enough of yesterday’s play to be sure but I’m not convinced that England got the worst of the pitch. Boycott was adamant on the radio yesterday that the ball didn’t move much. Just because a pitch is green doesn’t mean it has to be seaming all over the place (Hamilton recently showed the same – that pitch had little lateral movement despite being greener than Caroline Lucas but bounced alarmingly). It seemed a close call whether to bat or bowl first. The team that won the toss in the last ten Tests in Durban (going back to 2002) have W5, L4 and D1 so it’s difficult to see this as a ground where the toss bestows any great advantage.
Something about this piece from George left me really cold.
There’s this need to denigrate the casual supporter (the constant reference to “couch potato”) that really isn’t called for. This falls under the same category as James Taylor. It’s not the couch potato, just as it wasn’t HIM not selecting these players, but the selectors. I’d noticed for a while that Woakes has increased his pace, and unlike Lovejoy, also know that Steyn isn’t express any more. If George wants to have a go at people for perpetuating the doubts over Woakes, perhaps he might tune into TMS where, when I was sitting in the car park waiting for the beloved, I heard the mouth of the Yorkshire Dales tell me that he thought Woakes a “fill-in” and that he wasn’t, in his view, test class (and he damned Chris Jordan with that same tag as well).
It’s the selectors who don’t pick them, George. It’s the selectors who don’t think they are quite up to it, backed up by prominent pundits. Not keen on you putting the words into mouths of fans in a rather denigrating way. I speak for myself and have no doubt these guys work their tails off.
George is on the side of the fans, I know, and he’s already said he wasn’t sure about it. He’s a good one. I’m a grouch!
Woakes impressed me today. Looked controlled, will probably need helpful conditions to grab a bagful in test cricket but I do think he looks up to it.
I think the difference is that Woakes has been picked quite a lot by the selectors (although he hasn’t made the Test XI much) and some fans have complained with the usual reasons, whereas Taylor’s opportunities have been few and far between. The selectors have always rated Woakes.
Nice blog. I had the other blog in my favourites today which asked for opinions on the days play and hardly anyone mentioned it (they got wrapped up in Swann and Shah), with this being an excellent days test cricket I was more than surprised.
As for the game, you win the toss in a cloudy and humid Durban and you have Steyn & Morkel in your side, you only do one thing.
England could have lost this game yesterday, but good batting by Compton & Taylor saw them through, some silly shots in the 1st session (including Compton’s) threatened to undo this work, but some late runs got them to 300.
Broad was then magnificent, a bit more luck and SA could be 6 down, England ahead here, just.
Cracking test match in prospect, hope the people on here can get into it.
What’s your other blog?
I think he means different threads. It’s the same blog just different threads/topics.
What’s your “other blog”?
The Extra Bits. Not done a lot on here recently, let alone on the other one!
Oh. Maybe not.
The comments thread put up for day two, there’s a new one everyday to discuss the action.
Thanks all (was wondering if there was something I was missing – I do miss TFT)
I do miss a Maxie…..
The business about wicketkeeping in the article is on point though. Lyon for instance mysteriously improved a lot when they got rid of Wade.
Which player is expected to be involved in most every delivery? They should be really good at that…
I leave the wicket-keeping debate to TLG as he is a practitioner of the frankly stupid art! I did it for two overs and thought these people needed their heads read doing it.
I think the compromise is that you want your keeper capable of making test 50s to 100s, otherwise the tail is too long, but you don’t need him playing the cymbals.
What’s wrong with having a keeper bat at eleven?
I did wicketkeeping for a few overs of a Last Man Stands game I played a couple of years ago when our team didn’t have a proper keeper and that there were otherwise a lack of bowlers so the pads and gloves had t o be swapped around between a few of us. It is a horrible job!